Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Review: From Sea to Shining Sea

From Sea to Shining Sea: the Story of America, by Catholic Schools Textbook Project
2003, Ignatius Press, 360 pages, hardcover

Companion volume: From Sea to Shining Sea Teacher's Edition, Beta edition by Catholic Schools Textbook Project
2003, Ignatius Press, 178 pages, spiral bound softcover

We just finished a great history year, my two middle-schoolers and I. We tackled American History and used as our textbook Catholic School Textbook Project's From Sea to Shining Sea. I divide our school year into four quarters, so we had exactly five chapters per quarter. Every Wednesday afternoon we sat down in the sunny, bright living room and I would begin reading a chapter aloud. My two middle-schoolers would then each a take turn reading and we would have the chapter read in just over an hour. They used an atlas to find and trace the historical routes covered that session.

After the usual discussion, during which I would blurt out questions such as “Imagine if they had never made it there…” and when they would wonder about such things as “How could they do that?”, we would move on to the quizzes and tests in the teachers’ manual. We did those orally and I would have them take turns answering the questions. If one could not answer the other could help. At the end of the quarter we would review the material and I would write up a test using the sample test questions for guidance. Although these end-of-quarter exams were several pages long, they had little problem answering the questions, as we had reviewed the material.

We learned much about American History this year thanks to this book. Better yet, they loved it! Each week they looked forward to history. It was our three-way time together. Between the two elementary schooler and two high schoolers at home, the middle-schoolers enjoyed having mom all for themselves on Wednesday afternoons. So they could expand their history study a bit further, each week I used the local library online to select and put on hold materials about about the historical characters we were studying. During our weekly trip to the library we picked up these books and left them out in our library pile in the living room. I would see them reading the books for pleasure before nightly family prayer.

The book offered, we thought, the right amount of information. More would have been too much; less, too little. The chapters were meaty and long, but with one devoted afternoon we did not have trouble reading the whole thing. We stopped the reading occasionally to comment on what was going on, and the “yellow blurbs” as we called them, always offered some food for extra discussions as they provide glimpses of life or special people or events in that time period of American History.

The twenty chapters follow the history of the United States from the Pre-Columbian travels of St. Brendan the Navigator and the Vikings, and continue chronologically until the last chapter entitled “Catholics in America”, which discusses figures such as Dorothy Day and J. F. Kennedy. The paper is glossy, the layout attractive and colorful, and the illustrations are generous and interesting. Each chapter offers Summary, a Chapter Checkpoint, Activities and “The American Larder” with interesting facts about things culinary of that specific time period. The companion volume, still in beta version at the time of the this review, offers more summary paragraphs, answer to the chapters’ questions and sample quizzes and tests to each chapter. I used it consistently throughout the year.

The list of contributors is impressive with such names as Professor James Hitchcock from St. Louis University, the Nashville Dominicans and several Catholic academics. It is indeed a delight to use an attractive, new textbook for History that is not secular or anti-Catholic. The Catholic School Textbook Project should be congratulated in their work to fill a dire need in Catholic education today.

Click here to see sample pages.

Both volumes available from Ignatius Press.

Reviewed by Ana Braga-Henebry, M.A.

1 comment:

Laurie said...

Thank you for your review. I was looking into getting this for next year. I'm glad you have had a positive experience and shared it.